Standard vacuum cleaners

We’ve tested standard vacuums to find out which are the best at carpet cleaning and pet-hair removal.

Vacuum cleaner.

Learn how to choose the right vacuum for your household and the pros and cons of the different types: standard, cordless stick and handheld.

We’ve also tested standard canister and upright vacuums to find which models are the best at carpet cleaning and removing pet hair.

We've tested 47 vacuum cleaners.

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Which type?

Standard vacuum cleaners

Standard vacuum cleaners are still a good option if you want a quality clean on all surfaces throughout your home. They come in various shapes, sizes and prices, and many have multiple head options and other features.

Here’s what you should consider when buying a standard vacuum cleaner.

  • Many models come with features such as variable power, adjustable head height, swivel heads and HEPA filters.
  • Option of bag or bin.
  • Connects to the mains, so no limit on how much vacuuming you can do.
  • For the money you would spend on a good cordless stick vacuum, you could get one of the best corded models.
  • Bulky to store.
  • Heavier than a cordless vacuum.
  • More difficult to manoeuvre in tight spaces.

Cordless stick vacuums

Cordless stick vacs are lightweight battery-powered cleaners. A rotary brush sweeps dirt into a dust container. The brush is powered by a small electric motor or a turbine (“turbo”) in the cleaner’s airstream. Dirt dislodged by the rotary brush is puffed away by the suction’s draft and deposited in the dust container.

Check out our buying advice and test results for cordless stick vacuums.

  • Much lighter than a standard upright or canister vacuum cleaner.
  • Easy to store.
  • Ideal for quick cleaning jobs in awkward places.
  • Most let you detach the power unit from the handle and use the vac as a handheld unit.
  • Running time is limited – generally just enough for a quick clean.
  • Bin size is small compared to corded vacuum cleaners.

Handheld vacuums

Handhelds aren’t designed to replace a conventional vacuum cleaner. They’re for tidying up spills. They’re surprisingly good – as long as you use them for what they’re intended. That means cleaning up dirt and spills on hard floors or the surface of carpets, and picking up pet hairs. They’re not for getting ingrained dirt out of carpet.

  • Small and easy to store
  • Cheap compared to stick vacs
  • Lightweight and easy to use
  • Enough power to vacuum surface dirt off carpet or hard floors, or to give furniture a quick going-over to remove pet hair.
  • Not enough power to remove dirt embedded deep within carpets
  • Small nozzle
  • Limited run-time
  • Limited dust bin capacity.

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Stick vacuum cleaners

Stick vacuum cleaners

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How much should you spend?

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Vacuuming SmartStrand carpets

We’ve fielded multiple questions recently about premium solution-dyed nylon and “SmartStrand” carpets. These synthetic carpets are soft, plush and durable. But members have told us they can’t push their vacuum cleaner over them – it gets stuck fast.

The problem is density of the carpet. The soft, plush feel is because they pack more fibres into every square centimetre than other carpets. But all those fibres make it harder for air to flow through, meaning some vacuums get sucked down and won’t budge.

The first thing to try is turning down the suction. If your vacuum cleaner has power settings, try it on something other than full-suck to see if that makes it easier to move.

It helps if your vacuum cleaner has a power head. This is a motorised brush that rotates inside the head – lifting dirt out of the carpet into the vacuum. They still work effectively even when a vacuum cleaner’s suction power is lowered. If the power head has height adjustment, try raising it to a sweet spot where you can move it easily, but it still sucks up the dirt.

A turbo head brush is spun by air flowing through the cleaning head. If your vacuum cleaner head is air-locked to your carpet, or you’ve turned the power down, they won’t work as well.

If your vacuum cleaner is still hard to move or you get poor dirt removal, you might need a new one. The important feature to look for is an adjustable-height power head with wheels.

If possible, try a vacuum cleaner on your carpet before buying. Be clear with the salesperson that you need a vacuum that’s effective and easy to move on plush nylon or SmartStrand-style carpet. This means if you find it doesn’t work as expected, you at least have recourse under the Consumer Guarantees Act.

Power consumption

In September 2014, the European Union (EU) declared vacuum cleaners of more than 1600 watts could not be sold in the EU.

The idea is to encourage manufacturers to design more efficient models. They plan to introduce similar regulations to other household appliances.

Many vacuum cleaners available in New Zealand are around 2000–2200 watts, particularly those that use a bag. Some of these high-power vacuums perform very well in our tests – but not all – and several lower-power models also do a good job at removing dirt from carpets. Our results show that higher power can mean better performance, but there is no direct link between stated power and dirt removal.

It seems likely the EU ruling will eventually have an impact here – although it may take some time for newer models to filter through to our market.

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